Prague, 7 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- As reports of U.S.-British forces attacking targets in Baghdad filter in today, commentary in the Western press today looks at the attack on a convoy of Russian diplomats outside Baghdad yesterday, the questionable human rights records of the U.S. administration's allies in its Iraq campaign and winning the peace in Afghanistan. Central Asia's re-evaluation of ties with the U.S. stemming from the war in Iraq is also a subject of interest in the Western press, as is fighting bribery in Kazakhstan and elsewhere around the globe.
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
An editorial in "The New York Times" discusses the recent release of the U.S. State Department's annual list of the human rights practices of nations around the globe. The paper says the report dispenses "with the niceties of diplomatic language," and looks at both friendly and hostile nations "with candid scrutiny."
This year, the editorial writes, "Among the nations that come in for criticism are a number of members of President [George W.] Bush's 'coalition of the willing' for the invasion of Iraq -- embarrassing company in a campaign whose aims include liberating the Iraqi people from dictatorship." Uzbekistan, a U.S. ally that hosts American military bases for operations in Afghanistan, "routinely tortures detainees and some have died in custody. [Azerbaijan] arbitrarily detains dissidents and rigs elections. Significant violations are noted in such other coalition members as Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Georgia, Macedonia, Rwanda, Uganda, and Ethiopia." In all seven of these U.S. allies, "the overall human rights situation was rated as poor."
Washington has itself been accused of using sleep or food deprivation "to extract confessions" from prisoners in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. "The New York Times" says the U.S. should reject "cruel" and "degrading" methods, and "should refuse to hand over prisoners to countries that routinely use torture." The State Departments annual rights report "must become a tool not just for documenting abuses, but also for combating them."
A "Stratfor" (Strategic Forecasting LLC) commentary takes a preliminary look today at an attack on a Russian diplomatic motorcade yesterday carrying Russian Ambassador to Iraq Vladimir Totorenko and journalists outside Baghdad. The convoy was fired upon twice over the course of several kilometers as it made its way from the Iraqi capital to the Syrian border. Five of its occupants, including the ambassador, were wounded, one seriously.
It remains too early to determine who is responsible for the shots fired. Both the U.S. and Iraqi governments were aware of the motorcade's route, and both sides deny any responsibility for the attack. But within Russia, "Stratfor" says the incident "has ignited tremendous controversy, and [it] is widely believed that U.S. forces deliberately attacked the convoy as a means of punishing Russia for its attempts to block military action against Iraq."
"Stratfor" says the looming question now is how Russian President Vladimir Putin will react. He has thus far refrained from public comment, and many believe he wishes to avoid damaging relations with Washington. But this stance "is generating frustration, anger and opposition, even among some of Putin's close associates," "Stratfor" says. "Putin is now under great pressure from the public and some influential players within his government to react firmly to the convoy incident. His official response soon will show which camp -- the anti-Western or pro-U.S. factions -- has the upper hand in Moscow."
THE WASHINGTON POST:
"The Washington Post" carries a joint contribution by former U.S. Congressman Jack Kemp and the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce's Hamed Wardak and Mahmood Karzai, brother to Afghan Transitional President Hamid Karzai. The authors say the Afghan central government is characterized by a "chaotic bureaucracy" and no "clear chain of command." Decrees issued by the central government "have not been implemented beyond Kabul," and international funds fail to better the lives of Afghans "because these funds encounter [red] tape, layers of corrupt politicians and greedy warlords."
Afghanistan's political process and its stability remain beholden to warlords who are despised among Afghans "as the main cause of corruption and tyranny. Democracy and free markets will never take root in an environment dominated by them." Unfortunately, the authors add, "the reemergence of these warlords is directly related to U.S. financial and military support, which is the sole source of their power." U.S. cooperation with the warlords "serves to alienate the common Afghan citizen." The authors warn that Afghans may begin associating "U.S. involvement with tyranny and become vulnerable to political manipulation by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda." By "appeasing the warlords and pursuing a gradualist approach to reform, the United States is losing the support of the Afghan people."
Following the 11 September attacks and U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan, many Central Asian nations welcomed stronger ties with the United States, hoping for increased financial aid or to offset their traditional strategic alliance with Russia. Writing in "Eurasia View," Konstantin Parshin says within weeks of the start of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, Central Asian nations, "with the exception of Uzbekistan, seem to be re-evaluating their relationship with Washington." Many fear U.S. action in Iraq "will do more to destabilize the region than to promote prosperity."
Parshin says a major concern is that a crisis in Iraq "will obscure Central Asia's own desperate needs. Iraq's higher profile will naturally give it greater priority, potentially siphoning critical international resources from Central Asia."
Parshin says the formerly pro-U.S. rhetoric coming out of Tajikistan has begun to reflect reservations about U.S.-led operations in Iraq. In Kazakhstan, Parshin says the U.S. administration "is coming under severe criticism from some local media outlets," while a 26 March Kyrgyz commentary warned that U.S. policy is likely to spur Islamic radicalism and terrorism.
"At the heart of Central Asian concerns about the future are questions about the reliability of the U.S. commitment to regional security," Parshin writes. U.S. policy in Iraq may be "fueling an impression that the Bush administration is both arrogant and unpredictable, and therefore potentially harmful to Central Asia's interests. That perception is helping to foster anti-American attitudes across Central Asia."
Germany's fluctuating attitude toward the war in Iraq is the subject of a commentary by Torsten Kraul in "Die Welt," in which he condemns the opponents of the war in Iraq.
He says Berlin "is now suddenly in favor" of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's overthrow. It is good to have a government that realizes when the time has come to change attitudes, says Kraul, even though it did so reluctantly and only when the U.S.-British liberators had already neared Baghdad. But only recently German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer declared that he did not support regime change, that only the Iraqi people could achieve this.
Now, Berlin is looking to the future and concludes it is imperative to find new methods for multilateral arms control and for granting more power to the UN. But Kraul suggests this lesson should have been learned long ago, for "when despots build arsenals," he says, "firmness is required."
The UN betrayed its principles in dealing with Baghdad, says Kraul. War in Iraq did not begin because all nations except America favored arms inspections; he says it began because, except for America, nations became indifferent. Kraul concludes: "The UN can only survive if it can assert itself. If it wants to prevent another war, it should draw a lesson from Iraq."
Heiko Flottau in the German daily "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" looks at the prospects for Iraq and the Middle East in general after Saddam. He says, "the Americans can defeat Iraq speedily but they cannot alter people's mentality; they will not be able to win 'the hearts and minds' of the nation."
Although the majority in Iraq may be happy to see an end to the dictatorship, "many are swayed more by patriotic sentiment and surmise that the defense of their homeland is more important than the struggle against a despot." As the war goes on, "opposition in Iraqi hearts will strengthen," Flottau predicts. Long after Saddam Hussein's overthrow, he says, the Middle East "will be a battlefield of Islamic radicals." The people in this region have a long memory of past battles and this war will sow the seeds for yet more conflict.
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
"The New York Times" in an editorial republished in today's "International Herald Tribune" discusses U.S. authorities' decision to bring corruption charges against two U.S. businessmen involved in plans to develop oil fields in Kazakhstan. The editorial calls the indictments "a heartening sign that Washington is serious about opposing corruption, even when foreign policy interests push the other way. The case may also encourage other developed countries to join the fight on corrupt practices in international business."
The editorial goes on to say, "[fighting] corruption abroad has never been popular, especially when it involves lucrative deals and friendly governments." Kazakhstan, a U.S. ally, "is a young and inexperienced country, sitting on vast lakes of oil. That is the classic formula for corruption, and it poses the classic temptation to look the other way."
The paper cites the corruption-monitoring group Transparency International as saying bribery tends to concentrate in public works, the arms trade, and the oil business. Both oil and arms are critical to national security, "as is the encouragement of democratic and responsible government. Shady deals and secret payments serve none of these interests," the paper says. "By bringing these indictments in the Kazakhstan affair, the United States will encourage the others to follow."
An editorial in "Le Monde" today says the war in Iraq presages massive changes in the Mideast. Optimists might well imagine the emergence of democracy and much-needed development throughout the region, while pessimists warn aggressive U.S. policies may lead to instability throughout the region and a rise in Islamic terrorism.
Some insist that after Iraq, the United States must turn its attention to Jerusalem. Only a rapid agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians will allow the U.S. to regain the confidence of an Arab world that opposes its policies in Iraq, and eventually allow the progression of democracy in the Arab-Muslim world.
The Mideast "quartet" -- the cooperation between the U.S., EU, UN, and Russia -- has already drawn up a document on bringing peace to the region that prescribes three phases. The first foresees an end to the region's violence, the reestablishment of security cooperation between the two sides, and the Israeli forces' retreat from the Palestinian zones it occupied after the launch of the Palestinian intifada. The second stage would be the establishment of a Palestinian state with "provisional borders." The last step would be an agreement on the "thorny questions" -- the status of Jerusalem, the right of return for refugees, and permanent borders between the two states.
"Le Monde" says this roadmap might also provide the first indication that the U.S. administration intends to return to a multilateralist vision for resolving conflicts -- once the war in Iraq is over.
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)